Righting a Wrong - By Rep. Steven Palazzo

March 2017
Capital View

By Rep. Steven Palazzo
(read online digital version)

If there is one thing that has been made abundantly clear over the past 15 years, it is the strength and resilience of our National Guard.

Through thousands of deployments around the globe, we have gone from a strategic reserve to an operational force, one that has set records, impressing even our sharpest critics from the active components.

We have proven our mettle time and time again and have established ourselves as a premier asset capable of completing any mission as well as the active component does. And we have done it all at nearly one-third the cost of our active-component colleagues.

It is this consistent high level of performance that resulted in the National Commission on the Future of the Army recommending a greater use of the Guard in its report early last year.

We have been asked to play an ever-expanding role by the Defense Department. Guardsmen have been called on to do more and more, but sometimes that hasn’t translated to being rewarded in the same way as other deployed troops on the same mission.

Although the Pentagon has encouraged greater use of the National Guard in missions around the globe, it has also increased its reliance on a new mobilization authority, 12304b, to reduce the cost of those deployments. This means that as our brothers and sisters are deployed, they are being compensated with benefits less than those to which they would be entitled under other authorities.

Guardsmen and Reservists called up under 12304b do not receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, pre- or post-deployment TRICARE or early retirement credit. Whether it is intentional or not, the services are using our National Guardsmen to save money by denying them equal compensation.

Recently, I have been made aware that the Pentagon is working to consolidate the dozens of deployment authorities that currently exist. Our sources tell us that this process should be finalized in fiscal 2019.

Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, my fellow National Guard Caucus co-chairman, and I believe this is insufficient and too late. Simply put, I cannot sit by and allow this to happen to my fellow National Guardsmen.

In response, Congressman Walz, a Democrat, and I are introducing the Reserve Component Benefits Parity Act. Under our bipartisan legislation, we will ensure that the same benefits given to the active component are granted to our Guardsmen, regardless of their mobilization authority. This is not only the right thing to do, it is the fair thing to do.

For too long, and despite flawless performances, National Guardsmen and Reservists have been treated like second-class soldiers. They have been provided bottom- of-the-barrel equipment and inadequate benefits compared to the active component, and still they have done everything asked of them.

Many in Congress recognize the performance of the National Guard and the need to retain the lessons learned and the expertise that the force has gained over a decade and a half of warfare alongside its active-component counterparts.

If we are going to continue to ask so much of the Guard, and attempt to retain the highest performing and most battle-hardened force in its history, we cannot continue to treat it as anything but the best fighting force the country has ever seen.

The author is a Republican in his third term representing the fourth district of Mississippi. The former Marine is an enlisted member of the Mississippi Army National Guard.